From September up to April, the vast fishponds of Sta. Cruz ( Zambales province, Philippines) are a favorite spot of migratory birds gorging on easy-to-catch farmed fish.
I dropped by the area yesterday (April 26, 2011) to check out the visiting birds. There are still quite many migrants around, but I ignored the waterbirds and instead concentrated on catching a raptor species that’s a fishpond regular – the Osprey.
These are the closest captures I’ve ever taken of the Osprey. I counted at least 5 individuals of this migratory bird of prey, fishing all day and presumably trying to stock up on fuel for the forthcoming long migratory flight to their breeding grounds.
Osprey (Pandion haliaetus, migrant)
Habitat – Associated with water both along coast and inland.
At 17.5 inches total length, the Green Imperial-Pigeon is among the largest pigeons in our islands. It ranges all over the Philippines.
I observed this individual gathering nesting materials from a specific spot at Subic rainforest and flying along a predictable direction, presumably to its nesting area, then back again. I positioned myself with my hand held 20D + 400 5.6 L along its expected flight path, taking care to have the morning sun behind my back.
Sure enough, the bird emerged shortly from its nesting materials gathering area and flew right in front of me with a photogenic twig in its beak. My ancient 20D’s AF was good enough to catch the fast pigeon, given the plain sky background.
Green Imperial-Pigeon (Ducula aenea, resident)
Habitat – Lowland and middle elevation forest.
A medium large raptor with a long, slender chicken-like neck, the Oriental Honeybuzzard feeds on ants and bees taken from nest and hives. It ranges in most major Philippine islands, except Bohol and Masbate. It has a length of 0.585 m and a wingspan of 1.420 m.
A group of these birds of prey can be seen regularly at the Quezon National Park. I waited at first light atop a ridge through which a winding road snakes up. Apparently coming from its perch at the tall trees on a slope higher than my position, this individual started soaring in mid-morning. It was an easy target to catch for the AI servo AF of my 5D MII.
Oriental Honeybuzzard (Pernis ptilorhynchus, resident/migrant)
Habitat – Seen soaring above or near forest below 1500 m.
About three years ago, I and several birdnuts were allowed access inside the fenced compound of the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant through the recommendation of the Provincial Tourism Office of Bataan. There are quite many species of birds inside the restricted area because of its lush vegetation and secured nature. No hunter or poacher can enter and do harm to the feathered creatures here.
The nuclear plant itself is mothballed, still unfueled, and I hope it remains non-operational forever.
This male Pied Bushchat was foraging in a grassy area near the nuke plant. I used my vehicle as a mobile blind to get very near this normally shy bird, which is found in all major Philippine islands. It is a mere 5 inches in total length, so it is about lifesize as posted when viewed through 96 dpi displays.
The female is mostly mottled grey brown in color and looks very different from the all black male. Here are some video footage of a female fimed in-habitat at Candaba wetlands.
Pied Bushchat (Saxicola caprata, male)
Habitat – Drier open country, grasslands and cultivated areas.
A Purple Heron glides over dense vegetation as it comes in to land at one of the ponds in Candaba wetlands. Despite the featured background and the incoming flight trajectory, my 1D MII’s AF had no trouble catching the target.
Light was not as bright as I wish for birds in flight, and I was forced to slow down the shutter speed to 1/640 sec at the risk of camera shake or subject motion. I got lucky in panning and the feather detail turned out decently sharp.
These large birds (length of 1.145 m and wingspan of 1.90 m) are fairly common residents all over our islands, and they are a guaranteed catch at Candaba wetlands at any time of the year. They are so slow in the air that I sometimes refer to them as ships-in-flight. 🙂
My website’s banner photo above is a composite of 5 frames from a burst at this species.
Purple Heron (Ardea purpurea, resident)
Habitat – Fairly common in all types of wetlands.
A medium small egret (19 inch length), this white bird is very common locally. It stays close to cattle or carabao to catch insects the larger animals disturb.
This bird was foraging at a ricefield being prepared for planting at the Iwahig Penal Colony (Palawan). As it flipped the insect for better swallowing position, I pressed the shutter button for a short burst. One of the frames got the prey in the air between the mandibles.
Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis, resident/migrant)
Habitat: Common in pastures, ricefields and marshes.
This uncommon waterbird is secretive and solitary. It is medium size, being 23 inches in total length, and a resident at all major Philippine islands.
The Black Bittern’s shy nature and dark plumage make it tough to see when in cover. It took me several years of birding at Candaba wetlands to get a good glimpse of the bird.
This one was flying low over the grasses of the wetlands when I chanced upon it. My manual exposure settings were priorly set for mid-toned birds, so I quickly reduced my shutter speed from 1/1600 sec to 1/1000 sec for a 2/3 stop boost in the illumination of the dark subject. The 1D MII’s AF did a great job of locking focus on the dark plumage despite the featured surroundings.
Black Bittern (Dupetor flavicollis, resident)
Habitat – Uncommon in wetlands from ricefields to mangroves.
The White-breasted Waterhen is a very common bird found in all major Philippine islands. It is more conspicuous than most rails and can be found even in city parks and grassy areas. It is often seen foraging on the ground, always close to cover where it runs to when disturbed. Both male and female look alike, and it is medium large in size (11 inches total length).
This bird takes to the air in short, low flights. It is not photographed often while airborne because of the tough challenge of catching it in such brief moments.
I have many detailed captures of the bird while it is foraging on the ground. But this one in flight, with out-of-focus pond water and vegetation in the background, is probably my favorite because of the difficulty of capture.
White-breasted Waterhen (Amaurornis phoenicurus, resident)
Habitat – Wetter areas like grasslands, marshes and mangroves.
It is not easy to fill the frame with this colorful migrant, given its shyness and small size (6 inches total length). This kingfisher is found all over the Philippine islands from late August to June, but it’s not as common as its name implies.
An effective way to get close is to look for fishponds where the kingfisher is used to seeing people around, then stake out near a favorite perching spot. This was what I did at San Juan, Batangas, in 2008. I used the trunk of a coconut tree as cover and hand held the 1D MII + 700 mm from a kneeling position.
Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis, migrant)
Habitat – Along coasts, fish ponds and open rivers.
This little bird is among the most colorful of the kingfishers found only in the Philippines. At 5.5 inches length, it is also among the smallest.
I got close to this individual at a nature resort in Tiaong, Quezon province, in 2009. The single breast band indicates this is female (the male has two breast bands).
The bird’s habit of perching in one spot for a few minutes allowed me enough time to manually focus with precision. To make it bigger in the 5D2’s frame I had to shoot at a focal length of 1374 mm (Sigma 300 – 800 DG + 2x TC). The bird was in low light, so I slowed down my shutter to 1/6 sec for sufficient exposure and I tried to shoot in between the bird’s head-bobbing movement (see video below).
If I were to choose the most technically challenging shot I ever executed, this is probably the front-runner. The reward of surmounting the difficulties is a 21-MP capture, tack-sharp at the pixel level, that’s printable to really big sizes (24″ x 36″ and beyond).
Indigo-banded Kingfisher (Alcedo cyanopecta , a Philippine endemic, female)
Habitat – Uncommon, restricted to clear fresh water streams up to at least 1500 m.
Special thanks to Carmela B. of Villa Escudero for the support during filming.